The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series is set to conclude this weekend and with the season witnessing a record-tying 19 unique winners, it’s fair to say that the introduction of the Next Gen cars has been a resounding success.
In fact, going beyond the winners, the battle for a place in the final four for this year’s season finale also went down to the wire with Christopher Bell claiming his must-win race victory at last weekend’s Xfinity 500 at the Martinsville Speedway.
While Bell took the honors, Trackhouse’s Ross Chastain made an all-or-nothing move on the final two turns, securing fifth and narrowly securing his place in the final four in the most dramatic of fashions.
Bell and Chastain will be joined by Penske’s Joey Logano and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliot who will face each other in a winner takes all race at the Phoenix Raceway.
So who is the favorite for the title?
Penske’s Logano should be the favorite to claim his second NASCAR championship. The driver from Connecticut secured his place in the final four early after winning the race in Las Vegas and has already claimed two previous race wins at the Phoenix Raceway, while also leading a total of 425 laps over the last six races at the venue.
Logano’s last championship triumph followed a similar pattern, wherein he booked his place in the final four early before claiming the ultimate prize by winning the season’s last race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Next on the list is Elliot with the 2020 champion having fond memories of the venue. 2020 was also the year Phoenix replaced Homestead-Miami as the final round on the calendar, meaning Elliot enters the race knowing exactly what he needs to do.
The Hendrick Motorsport driver was also crowned this year’s regular series champion, though his form in the playoffs has been patchy, with Elliot coming into the weekend with just two top-five and three top-10 finishes over the past nine playoff races.
Bell has delivered when it has mattered during this season’s playoffs. The Joe Gibbs driver claimed two must-win race victories at the Bank of America Roval 400 and last weekend’s Xfinity 500.
Running in just his third season at the Cup Series level, Bell is the least experienced in the quartet with a best championship finish of 12th last year.
However, the driver from Oklahoma has shown he is more than adept at coping with pressure when the stakes are high, and he goes into the race on the back of what was possibly the most important win of his career.
After a truly spectacular finish to the race in Martinsville, Chastain goes into the season finale as NASCAR’s man of the hour.
The Trackhouse driver might have made the finals by the slimmest of margins, but Chastain has also been the most consistent driver in the final four with a record of two-second places and fourth in his last three races.
Despite having a midseason wobble where Chastain failed to finish in the top 15 between rounds 21 and 27, the Florida native has had a stellar year and a championship would be a just reward for his efforts.